Published on January 25th, 2011 | by Amy0
The Invisible Bridge: Not Just Another Holocaust Novel
We’ve seen no shortage of Holocaust stories in literature and film in the last 50 years. The Invisible Bridge is different. Set during World War II? Yes. Centered around the lives of Jews who suffer greatly? Yes. But this is a novel not so much about tragedy as about human feeling. Its soul is that of a grand love story, and the pages just keep turning.
Julie Orringer first came on the scene in 2005 with How to Breathe Underwater, a collection of beautifully written but ultimately conventional short stories. Here, she has moved past the MFA-style uncertainty of her earlier work to create a can’t-put-it-down epic of 624 pages. In the story of Andras Levi, based on Orringer’s own family, she has found her material.
From when we first meet Andras in Budapest’s opera house before he leaves to start a new life in Paris, we like him. Later there are friends, women, commanding officers, mentors, saviors, and torturers, but there is always Andras, and he keeps us reading. He is naïve, often charmingly so, and his observations tend to the wide-eyed and obvious, but that seems to be intentional, a self-conscious quality of Andras, rather than of Orringer as a writer:
“What a pleasure it was to fit his key into the lock, to open the door to his private
room. He unloaded his groceries onto the windowsill and laid out his drawing
supplies on the table. Then he sat down, sharpened his pencil with his knife, and
sketched his view of the Panthéon onto a blank postal card. On its reverse he
wrote his first message from Paris: Dear Tibor, I am here! I have a desperate
garret; it’s everything I hoped for. On Monday I start school. Hurrah! Liberté,
egalité, fraternité! With love, Andras.
As the story evolves, the voice becomes much more serious, and the novel reveals its true power. Where so many other novels of war get lost in the grand scope of tragedy, The Invisible Bridge stays personal, conveying a sense of loss, of hunger, of cold. It is rich with detail. It is haunting, rather than overwhelming:
“For years now, he understood at last, he’d had to cultivate the habit of blind
hope. It had become as natural to him as breathing. . . It was the inevitable by-
product of love, the clear and potent distillate of fatherhood.”
If the novel stumbles, it’s in the pacing. The passage of time is uneven, and while this might be authentic to the experience of living through it, it can be disorienting to read. We get really quite settled in Paris, and feel as if we have read nearly an entire book before we get to Part Two (of five); then we barely know what’s hit us as we’re whisked through time and space. In the end, though, the ride is thrilling, and may forever change your view of history.
Knopf, 2010, Hardcover, 624 Pages
In paperback January 25th from Vintage Contemporaries